When you think California cuisine you know the foundation came from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. Ever since she opened the restaurant in 1971 the restaurant focused on local foods – and while they started out as French with California ingredients – they quickly moved to what became the genesis of the local food movement.

Terry has been coming here since the mid 1970’s – and says he  never had a bad meal, never run across a waiter that didn’t know the menu, and never had a bad pairing of wine.

Upstairs is a bustling, noisy café that has the menu ala cart and you can walk in here almost anytime.  Downstairs is the fixed price menu where you need a reservation but can sit down and enjoy a great meal. Both places adore children.

We think that local grown and California cuisine are a part of the fabric of America, but in the 1970’s most people were still trying to do French cooking with ingredients from cans – and had lost the flavor of the country French food in the process. French is no longer the focus, but is a part of the evolution of the restaurant.

Today Chez Panisse buys fresh produce daily- and the rule for buying is simple- whatever looks great. There is one farm that grows just for them.  “We figure out what to do with the food after I buy it.”


From the kitchen of Chez Panisse

A few items that came from Chez Panisse and have made it around the world:

Goat Cheese Salad (Terry says  would love to take credit for this as he asked for goat cheese on his salad  in the late 70’s). California-style pizza – a pizza that is baked in their own oven then covered with local ingredients.  In-house water- to save the planet from bottled water. Fruit bowls – yes, a simple bowl of fruit, as a dessert was uncommon.

The chefs who have worked at Chez Panisse include Jonathan Waxman (of Top Chef Masters fame), Judy Rogers and Gilbert Pilgram of Zuni Café. There are too many more- but suffice to say that Water’s influence over modern American cuisine from Charlie Trotter to Mark Tarbell.

Alice Water’s influence extends to the White House – which is why Michelle Obama fostered the great vegetable garden.


Buying their ingredients locally, this would end up in the dessert bowl

Chez Panisse is in Berkley and well worth the trip from San Francisco.